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More Clues on Horse Toxin.

New findings may lead to help for a disease that destroys brain cells in horses. Equine leukoencephalomalacia, or ELEM, is a rare disease caused by a toxin that frequently contaminates corn, but at concentrations of less than 1 or 2 parts per million. In 1995, ELEM killed 38 horses in Kentucky and Virginia.

The toxin in corn, fumonisin, is made by the fungi Fusarium moniliforme and F. proliferatum. Dietary concentrations in excess of 15 ppm can make a horse sick, and the damage is irreversible. The toxin interrupts the way in which a horse's liver, kidney, and possibly other tissues make fats known as sphingolipids. It also causes sphinganine--an intermediate fat molecule--to accumulate, while depleting supplies of other necessary fats.

According to a study by ARS and University of Georgia scientists, there is another fungal compound that can temporarily reduce sphinganine accumulation in mice. Several species of fungi make this compound, known variously as ISP-I, myriocin, or thermozymocidin. If the finding is confirmed, it may lead to treatments for sick horses, as well as to ways to prevent the toxin from harming them. ARS and Emory University scientists have received a patent on a technique to detect fumonisin poisoning in an animal's tissue, blood, and urine based on changes in sphinganine. The Food and Drug Administration is considering recommendations to protect both humans and livestock from fumonisin. Ronald T. Riley, USDA-ARS Richard B. Russell Agricultural Research Center, Athens, Georgia; phone (706) 546-3377, e-mail
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Publication:Agricultural Research
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 1999
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